Five Reasons Dancers Should Consider Training Abroad—and the Challenges to Be Aware Of

November 28, 2019

More and more dance students are starting to consider training options outside the U.S. Studying abroad allows dancers to immerse themselves in different dance styles, not to mention different cities and cultures. And in some cases, the application process is surprisingly easy. Here’s how you could stand to benefit from international study—and some real talk about how to navigate the logistical challenges.

It’s the Ultimate Way to Get Outside Your Comfort Zone

“These programs are a chance to diversify your training,” says Jackie Kopcsak, assistant professor of practice at University of Southern California Glorya Kaufman School of Dance. “So much growth can happen, especially when you’re outside your typical cohort.” Lund Fuller, a Ballet West Academy student who attended the Royal Ballet School summer intensive in London this past summer, definitely found this to be true. “I didn’t have the distractions of my normal life, so I could put all my focus on what was happening in the studio,” he says. “I truly feel like I leveled up.”

Cesar Corrales (now a first artist with The Royal Ballet) receiving an award during the Youth America Grand Prix 2014 Finals ceremony (VAM, courtesy YAGP)

It Helps You Make New Dance Connections

International study can introduce you to a totally different dance network. “Training abroad gives dancers a chance to work with choreographers they might not have exposure to in the U.S.,” says Dasha Korol, director of gala programming and marketing for Youth America Grand Prix, which has facilitated hundreds of scholarships for competitors to pursue training abroad. “They meet other students from all over the world and establish partnerships, friendships, and connections that last a lifetime. International exposure can absolutely expand a dancer’s horizons.”

It Can Provide a Fresh Take on Your Technique

Fuller felt he particularly benefited from having a different set of eyes on him in class. “I’m not the best jumper, but when my teacher suggested starting a sissonne from second to get a better sense of the timing before starting in fifth, something just clicked,” he says. In addition, teachers facing a class of students who speak many different languages may be more descriptive and hands-on than your instructors back home. “Sometimes the way another teacher is able to phrase a correction can spark a new understanding,” says Kopcsak, “and that can lead to major breakthroughs.”

YAGP scholarship awards ceremony (D Takahashi, courtesy YAGP)

It Can Be a Career Eye-Opener

Beyond giving you a taste of life on your own, international programs can broaden your perspective on the opportunities that await you when you’re ready to start your career. “I learned that there are so many companies outside the U.S. that may appreciate what you do well,” says Fuller. “While I hope this experience will open doors for me in the future, it has already given me a glimpse of what my career and goals might be.”

It Might Be Easier Than You Think to Apply

There’s no denying it: Studying abroad is expensive. But there are many scholarships out there, and it’s not necessarily difficult to apply and be accepted to an international school. “I let my parents know that this was something I wanted to do, and then I just had to submit specific photos with my application—no audition video required,” says Fuller. Other schools may want to see you on film, in competition, or in a U.S. audition. For more complex applications, there may be program alumni at your studio willing to talk you through the process and how they found success.

Lund Fuller in the studio (Beau Pearson, courtesy Fuller)

When You’re Swimming Upstream to Get Across the Pond:

If you’re under 18 and interested in studying abroad, finding a reputable international dance program that accepts Americans can be tricky, especially when the process is complicated by language barriers. Plumb the depths of company and institution websites and get in touch with recruiters to learn more. Earning a scholarship to an international school via a dance competition is probably the simplest way to make this dream come true; scholarship winners have more help when it comes to navigating the logistics (and costs) of getting overseas and securing travel visas.

But even without a scholarship, the current listing of recent scholarship awardees from a trusted competition is a great place to start your research. Dasha Korol of Youth America Grand Prix says that before the competition hands out scholarships, it vets programs to make sure they’re offering a high quality of student life, adequate performance opportunities, and a good post-graduate employment rate. (Do keep in mind, though, that some of these programs are invitation-only.)